Sacred Destinations: a spiritual journey to northern Thailand

Proudly contributed by Jaffee Yee

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For travelers seeking extraordinary experiences, Thailand can be very rewarding, especially the north. Northern Thailand, formerly the Lanna Kingdom that once covered part of Yunnan, Laos, and what is now Myanmar, offers a great variety—religion, culture, arts, cuisines, flora, fauna, even eco-adventures. For example, very popular among devoted Buddhists as well as enthusiasts of glorious, historic, sacred architecture, is a spiritual journey throughout northern Thailand.

The principle cities of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai have many ancient, Lanna-style, Buddhist temples. The legacies of the former Lanna Kingdom founded more than 750 years ago, many are maintained by local Buddhist devotees and function as places of worship today. Visitors are free to pay their respects and worship in any of them. One of the most sacred temples is Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai, the birthplace of the Lanna Kingdom.


Wat Phra Kaew, Chiang Rai

Wat Phra Kaew is one of the three royal temples of Chiang Rai. The other two are Wat Phra Singh and Wat Jed Jod; all are in walking distance from the others.

Wat Phra Kaew was founded as Wat Pa Yiah (Pa Yiah is a species of indigenous bamboo). The name was changed to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

after the discovery of the Emerald Buddha in 1434 when lighting struck the Phra Chedi and the Emerald Buddha was revealed within.

Later, successive rulers relocated the Emerald Buddha to the cities of Lampang, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Wat Arun in Thonburi, and finally installed it across the river in Bangkok at Wat Phra Sri Ratanasadaram in the Grand Palace.

In the same compound, besides the Phra Ubosot, there are Phra Chedi, Ho Phra Yoke, and Hong Luang Saengkaew. The Phra Ubosot was built in the Chiang Saen style. The building was constructed in 1890 and recent renovations were completed with the raising of the “Cho-fah” on February 13, 2007 by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Ho Phra Yoke was built in the Lanna style with an original design by the late Chiang Rai National Artist Tawan Duchanee. Phra Buddha Ratanakorn Navuti Wassanusornmongkol or Chiang Rai Jade Buddha presides within. The interior walls are decorated with paintings by well-known local artists including Sompong Sarasap, Preecha Rachawong, Narongdej Sudjai and the late Sompol Yarangsee; depicting the legend and history of the Emerald Buddha and the creation of Chiang Rai Jade Buddha or Phra Yoke. The statue of Chiang Rai Jade Buddha is a creation of a well-known Chinese stone sculptor from Beijing, Mr. Yang Wenhui who has since retired in Chiang Rai.


Hong Luang Saengkaew was built to preserve the heritage of Wat Phra Kaew and serves as its museum. The museum has an impressive and rare collection of Lanna religious artifacts and Buddha images that one must see while visiting this temple. Mr. Supachai Sittilert, a retired museologist, is currently the curator of this museum.

Wat Phra Kaew

19 Moo 1, T. Wiang, Chiang Rai 57000 053 711 385, 053 719 086 Open daily 09:00am-17:00pm

No entrance fee. Donations are welcome.

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